We've been exploring over the past few weeks the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We've looked at the gospel through her eyes and looked at her life through the filter of the hero's journey, made popular by Joseph Campbell and his many disciples, among them George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. The hero's journey is a template that helpfully organizes most epic adventures, and Mary's experience is no different. Perhaps, in a way, neither is our own experience.
Mary's joy over Jesus' birth is interrupted by the prophecy of Simeon, who warns her that one day he will suffer and she will be devastated. The entire telling of her story and his sits in the shadow of this prophecy, but life must go on, and it does for them both. Last week we saw Jesus enter public ministry, and saw the personal and social trials and travails that this move created for his mother. This week we both their hero's journeys fulfilled in very different ways. But the path necessarily takes them through the shadow of death.
I'm currently reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, which include a great deal of correspondence between him and his parents. Bonhoeffer's imprisonment led eventually to his death; I don't yet know what ultimately happened to his parents, but along the way their own life was shaped by his persecution. So it is with us; at Christmas we are reminded that Jesus bound himself to us to live in solidarity with the trials of the human experience, but we're also reminded that when we bind ourselves to him--for our own benefit--we are necessarily binding ourselves to his passion.
This week, think about the moments of hardship that have defined your life in various ways. Think of how a mother bears her children not only during pregnancy but during all the hardships that they endure. Think of how in many ways God is like a mother, bearing with us and carrying us through the "many dangers, toils and snares" that enter our lives through our acts of nobility and through our acts of foolishness. Think of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Surely he has borne our iniquities." Embrace and celebrate the mother-love of God this week.
Jesus has pulled away from his family as he has brought together his followers; Mary no longer has a guaranteed audience with her son. This separation relegates Mary to the background for much of the remainder of the Gospels, until we reach Jesus’ passion, where Mary resurfaces at the foot of the cross. She watches her son die a horrid death; you might say that a sword has pierced her heart.
It’s here—in the moment of her greatest trial—that Mary encounters in her own son the divine ruler of the world. Jesus is revealed—the gospel is revealed—in his passion. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Jesus is God and God is dead.
Mary mourns the death of her son while simultaneously mourning the death of her God. And then she encounters her risen Son, her risen Lord. All along she attends to him, treasuring up in her heart the things she has seen and heard and felt even as she prepares the spices and perfumes for her son’s proper burial. Her risen Son orders her and her company to return to Jerusalem, and then her God—her Son—is exalted to the highest heaven.
Soon thereafter Mary and her company are given the ultimate boon: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With Jesus’ story and God’s law now written on her heart, Mary takes this treasure and returns to the normal world—still under Roman occupation, still rigidly segregated by class, but now no longer held in bondage to sin and death. She is free, but life is different.